Let’s end police-media complicity

(2002年我注意到媒體常常是從警方那裡得到訊息,知道又逮捕了什麼特殊主體,然後就可以寫成聳動的報導,新聞裡的胖妹、跨性別、同志等等都是這樣變成頭條的。這篇文章的中文版先行發表,英文文稿刊登於2002-09-07的Taipei Times)

People often blame the media for sensationalizing crime stories; what they don’t realize is that the police often act as an accomplice in creating such stories.  In fact, the media could never have uncovered so many pieces of sensational news without insider information provided by the police, information that would help make live sensational broadcasting possible in the first place.

The complicity between the police and the media has not only sacrificed the suspects’ right to privacy and their dignity, but has come to affect the allocation of police force as well as their methods of investigation.  For instance, the entrapment of overweight girls involved in enjo-kosai — a Japanese term referring to freelance prostitution by female students — is more sensational and brings in six times more merit than the arresting of common criminals that might truly endanger the safety of our society.  As this kind of news is more likely to be widely reported, making the police look efficient and effective, it encourages the police to target marginal and stigmatized (e.g. fat or transgendered) populations for criminal investigation so as to prepare more sensational news for the media.

The case is made clear in a recent scandal involving the Taipei police force.  In a routine obscenity sweep of the traditional red light district of Taipei, the Juvenile Police Branch (JPB) of the Taipei City Police Department arrested two street hookers, one of which turns out to be a hermaphrodite.  The police were thrilled to see their favorite kind of prey and quickly informed the media.  The media then had a field day with this case, but unexpectedly, the arrested prostitute later claimed that she had been sexually assaulted by a member of the police during interrogation.  Whether she was truly violated by a policeman or an informant who happened to be at the police station remains to be seen.  Yet this case, coupled with an earlier case in which another hermaphrodite was also outed and greatly hurt by the police-media collaboration, highlight the plight of the differently-gendered in this gossip-infested society.

In countries that uphold human rights, investigations of alleged crimes are never made public until they formally enter the legal process.  That is to say, a case appears in front of the TV camera only when the investigation has come to a definite closure and irrefutable evidence has been collected.  That’s why we only see the suspects either in a courtroom setting or while they exit the courthouse.  And in the case of a juvenile suspect, on-spot filming is replaced by sketching in order to protect the suspect’s right to privacy.   After all, he or she will remain a suspect, not a criminal, before a verdict is officially reached through due legal process.

In Taiwan, however, the abuse of human rights during criminal investigations is exemplified by the regular presence of the media at select police stations.  In fact, the media no longer make much effort searching for news; they simply perch themselves in the police stations and wait for sensational news to be brought home by the police.  Even if they are not around all the time, the police will contact them spontaneously if some bizarre news should emerge.  As panic-filled images of suspects dodging the camera are narrated by an emotional and sensational news broadcasting language, the people “captured” by the camera and the police are often thought to be guilty of the crime immediately.  And the police-media duo helps pass the verdict without a trial.

Such a method that ignores human rights and judicial justice is particularly inimical for those on the fringe of society who are constantly being defamed.  A few days ago, a transgendered friend of mine was stopped by the police for a random check when he was window-shopping in a dress.  The police asked for his ID card and entered his ID number into their portable computer only to find that he has no criminal record.   Despite the fact that my friend has a decent job and had not committed or attempted to commit any illegal acts while shopping — the police still threatened him that his basic data had been entered into police data bank now and that they would inform the media to come and film him if he were caught wearing a dress again.

This kind of case shows that the police are using possible media exposure to threaten our transgendered friends to give up their right to use public space.  While the transgendered population cause no harm to others nor violate others’ rights or interests, their basic human rights are constantly trampled by both the police and the media.

Not long ago, TV actor Jonathan Chen made the headlines by visiting a shopping center in a dress at night.  This sensational news should have already increased the public’s initial awareness of transgendered people’s right to their own choice of clothing styles and their freedom of movement.  Still, the recent cases of transgendered people being harassed/assaulted by the police as well as the media have made it clear that the police are in great need of a (trans)gender education that surpasses the narrow framework of two sexes — so that they can appropriately handle cases involving transgendered people.  Furthermore, government agencies and media monitoring organizations should look into the complicity between the media and the police so as to root out such gross violations of human rights by the media.